Interview: Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan on the Google Lawsuit

We’ve covered the lawsuit between Skyhook and Google in quite some detail already, but today we have something very interesting that sheds a lot of new light on the case: an interview with Skyhook‘s CEO and founder, Ted Morgan, about the lawsuit. While Morgan obviously couldn’t talk about everything, he explains a few things and gives some new information, as well. Read on for Skyhook’s side of the story.

Skyhook states in its lawsuit that Google’s Andy Rubin claimed that substituting Google Location Services with Skyhook’s XPS would make the devices in question “incompatible” with Android. This possible incompatibility can be determinded in two ways: the Compatiblity Test Suite and the Compliance Definition Document. Skyhook claims that using XPS does not make a device fail the CTS, and as such, the lawsuit seems to focus on the CDD instead, calling it an “entirely subjective review, conducted solely by Google employees with ultimate authority to interpret the scope and meaning of the CDD as they see fit, effectively gives Google the ability to arbitrarily deem any software, feature or function ‘non-compatible’ with the CDD.”

However, upon studying the CDD, it seems like an incredibly straight-forward document, and because it is so crystal clear in what it covers, it seems highly unlikely to me that Google would be able to pressure OEMs into anything via the CDD, since the CDD doesn’t really leave much room for interpretation. To make matters even clearer – the CDD doesn’t even address location services at all!

OSNews: With that in mind, how would it be possible for Google to pressure OEMs with the CDD (at least when it comes to location services)? What part of the CDD can Google point to and state, “No Skyhook XPS because of this rule”?

Morgan: Specifically, the only place that mentions location and the section that was used to deem Skyhook non-compliant was Section 8.12 which states:

8.12. GPS
Device implementations MUST include a GPS receiver, and SHOULD include some form of “assisted GPS” technique to minimize GPS lock-on time.

We would agree that it seems like a stretch to use this rule to deem Skyhook’s hybrid Wi-Fi/GPS location to be non-compliant.

OSNews: I’m interested in more on this, specifically because the lawsuit seemed to really focus on the CDD as the means through which Google forced the OEMs to drop Skyhook. Does this mean that my hunch about it being more likely that Google used the secret Google Apps/Market agreement to pressure OEMs is correct?

Morgan: From our understanding, the initial rejection at Motorola was a ruling using the CDD and that particular section. They interpreted it to mean that ONLY GPS satellite data should be exposed thru the location API and since we optimize location data from satellites, cell towers and Wi-Fi, we violated the spirit of that interface. But we were never given an official formal ruling/response from a representative of Google.

OSNews: In the filing, Skyhook briefly mentions the OEM agreement covering the use of Google Apps and Android Market access. This agreement is secret and not available to the public. Isn’t it more likely that Google used this agreement (instead of the CDD) as leverage to block OEMs from using Skyhook XPS?

Morgan: I cannot go beyond what I said below unfortunately, though we did state in the complaint that we believe those other agreements are coming into play.

OSNews: Does Skyhook have access to this agreement?

Morgan: We do not have access to this agreement in its executed form.

OSNews: Will Skyhook try to get this agreement out in the open as part of the lawsuit?

Morgan: The goal isn’t to expose any of Google’s business agreements, but rather to get them to let us deploy on the handsets we have contracted for. But if those agreements are being used unfairly against us then they could come into play.

OSNews: As Skyhook points out in the filing, neither Motorola nor Company X saw any roadbloacks to using XPS in their agreements with Google, and Android devices without Google Location Services had already shipped. Does this mean Skyhook is claiming Google changed this OEM agreement specifically to block XPS as soon as they learned of Skyhook’s deals with Motorola and Company X?

Morgan: Yes, that is what we state in our complaint.

OSNews: Did Motorola and/or Company X play any role in the decision to drop Skyhook? Did they complain to Google, or did they just give in to Google’s demands, no questions asked? It must’ve been rather jarring for them too, since they invested in using Skyhook as well.

Morgan: We have spent years building the relationships with these handset makers, many months negotiating contracts and then even more time working with them to deploy the technology. Google’s actions have been disruptive to all these efforts for everyone involved after so much has been invested.

OSNews: Considering Skyhook lost Apple earlier this year as a customer in the smartphone market, and now seems to be in the process of losing Android as a possible market, it is not entirely strange to come to the conclusion that this is a case of “if you can’t compete, litigate”. What is your response to this line of thought?

Morgan: We understand those comments but all we are asking for here is the ability to compete. Our technology is better and we win every time a device maker wants to deploy the best location system. We believe we have competed very successfully in our history and won these deals fair and square, only to have Google interfere with those successful contracts after the fact. And Apple remains a paying customer of Skyhook, so we are fully prepared to compete and win out on the playing field.

OSNews: Skyhook also claims Google wanted Skyhook’s XPS and Google Location Services to run side-by-side, so that Google would get access to XPS’ data. In your view, what was Google’s main goal here – to completely block Skyhook XPS from shipping on Android devices, or to get access to XPS’ data (and did the blocking only come *after* Skyhook made clear that wasn’t an option)?

Morgan: I really can’t comment on their goals and aspirations, those really are better questions for them. I can say that the underlying Wi-Fi data is very important to providing the best location as we have shown over the years, and the resulting location usage of cell phones users will become increasingly important to marketers as a better way to target promotions. Location data is one of the true battlegrounds of the mobile platform war and these disagreements show just how valuable it all could be for the winners.


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